Tuesday, December 31, 2019

We'll Be Home for Christmas

We actually agreed to not get any Christmas decorations this year and wait until everything goes on sale at the end of the season...but we caved!  I mean, how can people who turn on Christmas music right after Thanksgiving resist the festive lights, evergreen garlands, wreaths hung on the front door, and colorful ornaments?  First, we were just going to decorate the top of the mantle, but then we saw the little Christmas trees who so badly needed a home, and then I forced Wes to get out his woodworking equipment to make wooden trees for our front yard, too.  He surprised me when I got home one day with Christmas lights strung around the brick pillar in front of our house, too.  We even participated in the Christmas Tree Lane lighting ceremony, like true locals.  Just kidding, the true locals hide at home and avoid the crowds!  Anyway, it was a super fun Christmas season, and I'm glad that we gave into the cheesy holiday spirit!  Altadena truly feels like home, now.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Our Last-Minute Journey around the Thousand Island Lake Loop

I never would have guessed that we'd be back in the Eastern Sierra backpacking like two people without a care in the world after becoming homeowners, and especially not after becoming pregnant.  Our lives had changed so much in the past few months that we never bothered to entertain the thought of going on a trip anytime soon.  We barely even got to do one leisurely hike after moving in, even though the hiking trails were more accessible than ever from our new place in Altadena.  In the whirlwind of events, we miscarried at six weeks.  It was crazy because just as we were starting to wrap our heads around the fact that we were expecting, we had to accept the fact that it wasn't happening anymore.  Well, since there was no longer a baby on the way, I figured that a getaway into the backcountry sounded like something that we should prioritize.  It also seemed like a worthy time to take a pause in our fast-paced homeowner life and put the brakes on the rollercoaster of parental emotions.

Even though we both knew that it could happen to us, it was really sad when we experienced the pregnancy loss.  By the time Labor Day rolled around, enough time had elapsed for us to process it.  I've come to focus on the idea that what I have now is always more than what I had yesterday, even if I had a potential baby in my belly yesterday.  It was hard to think this way at first, but it is true.

I, myself, feel stronger as a woman for getting through it, and I feel that I can now sympathize more with those who have struggled or are struggling with pregnancy in general.  This whole unpredictable journey to having a baby can be either debilitating or empowering -- I emphatically chose the latter. The situation has given me an even more fiery drive to stay in control, and savor what the present has to offer instead of over-anticipating the future or fixating on the past.  Life is still beautiful the way it is, so I put the past behind me and found ways to enjoy what I am able to do now, and only now.

As a couple, this was our first time both going through a joint loss.  Despite the sadness, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth that this has added to our outlook on parenthood and our relationship with each other.  Wes was so kind, yet logical, and he helped me to honor the situation rather than resent it during the first couple of days.  Our emotions around starting a family have become more intricate, more mature, and more resolved.  We have, in this unexpected loss, expanded our capacity to be grateful for when we do get our rainbow baby, which I am very optimistic will happen!

Booking our backpacking permits felt surreal.  We got really lucky to get permits for this particular trail, which has been on my bucket list for a while.  Someone must have cancelled, because two spots opened up on this very popular trail that usually gets booked well in advance.  Time to gather that camping stuff and brush up on our hiking endurance and backcountry survival skills!  We were barely finishing up with unpacking, fixing up our house, getting the yard in order, and my body was still adjusting back to its usual cycle.  Even though it felt like we were leaving behind loose ends and unfinished business, I knew that we needed this.

It's always freeing to be out there in the rocks, trees, and lakes, but this time it was something else.  It felt safe and yet adventurous in its own way, and it proved to me that life is still as good as it was before. Wes joked that the only difference now is that we have to live with the fear of our home being burglarized.  Not to worry, when we had a shred of reception, we checked our security cameras for activity.  We also made sure that there were no Labor Day deals that we were missing from our favorite furniture stores!  But other than that, our bodies were surprisingly still in shape, and it wasn't hard to slip into that backpacking mentality.  The trail that we chose was challenging, our packs were heavy, and we hadn't actually hiked long distances for months, but I believed in us!  I also felt glad to be out here, all things considered health-wise.  Most of all, I felt grateful to have a loving, steadfast, and supportive partner by my side who not only knows how to make me laugh, but who I can count on to hang a bear bag, steer us in the right direction, and stop to take as many photos as I want.  The three days went by at a good pace and it was all very rewarding!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Best Birthday-warming Barbecue!

I don't remember when I began toying with the idea of having an actual housewarming party, but I wanted to have something to look forward to, and a sort of goal that we could work toward, with all that we'd been doing.  Plus, we already started having some people over a few times.  I also figured that my 30th birthday would fall perfectly on the 3-month mark of move-in, so it seemed like good timing for hosting a big fat celebration.

There are a few birthday parties that I remember in my life.  The earliest one was probably my fifth birthday.  Mom and Dad threw me a birthday party at Discovery Zoom (like a Chuck E. Cheese sort of place) and invited my whole kindergarten class from Montessori School.  I don't really remember any of the kids, but I definitely remember the awesome handmade pinata and how special I felt that day.  I don't remember having another one until my 18th, which was planned in collaboration with two other girls in my high school class who also had October birthdays.  We had a gathering at my apartment-style student housing at UCI - it was pretty major, because I was finally out of the house and living life as an "adult."  I got my first big-ticket gift: an iPod Nano, which my friends had all chipped in for.  The next big one after that was my rather ratchet 21st, when I tried to take 21 shots of the worst alcohol that I proudly purchased myself at the Ralph's by USC.  The night ended poorly, I think the last thing I remember was falling into the cardboard box that we had designated for recycling.  Onto the next chapter of my life - 25.  I was living with Wes and happily engaged by this time, and we squeezed at least ten people into our tiny apartment kitchen and rolled fresh pasta in many shapes and sizes!  Then, we had a carbalicious time tasting them all.  Since I am finally neither renting a place nor interested in getting drunk for the first time since I graduated high school, it is about damn time to throw the biggest and most sophisticated party in the history of me.

At first, Wes was a little hesitant of this ambitious undertaking, but I think he was 100% in when he realized that this meant that he could buy the smoker of his dreams and perfect his pitmaster skills.  Literally a few days after the decision was made, he reported to me that he found someone who was selling the smoker brand-new on OfferUp for an amazing price.  This does tend to happen with Wes.  He sets his heart on something, and then he finds a deal almost instantaneously... anyway, he borrows my car and drives away.  He comes home with the perfect little workhorse of a smoker that it is: the Traeger Timberline 850.  By the end of the day, it was all set up and standing under our tree in all of its glory.

Anyway, we decided to invite about a hundred people to our house.  We don't know how it happened, but the guest list just kept adding up.  It was pretty fun to see the RSVP's roll in.  Then, we realized what we had done... cooking all of the food didn't scare us as much as having to buy tons of folding tables and chairs.  And trash cans.  And a huge ice chest.  Tablecloths.  Lawn games.  Etc.  Did we even have enough space in the refrigerator?  Hmm...

Luckily, our good friends who have been throwing parties for a while lent us their tables and chairs, and I thought about buying picnic blankets as an alternative option.  While planning out our menu, we completed projects and realized some plans that we had always envisioned for the house.  Those included a very large painting for the living room that I had to literally take entire Saturdays standing in front of the easel, a side table that Wes built out of our tree slab wedding cake stand, a live edge coffee table that Wes built from a reclaimed tree slab that we had been saving for years, the gallery wall in the hallway of travel photos, the collage of collectibles from trips, painted corn hole boards, and certain living room statement pieces.  We definitely felt the urgency to decorate when we put the housewarming party on the map, but it was a fun and exciting sort of urgency.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Struggle Sweet Struggle - Our First Two Weeks as Homeowners

I didn't think that I'd be googling how to coil a hose or measuring Plast-O-Mats to size for kitchen cabinets right now.  In the span of two weeks, I've learned some fun facts: the tree of heaven is really the weed from hell, distant earthquakes can mess up your sprinkler system, laying down a tarp before staining a fence is a good preemptive measure, and keeping your grass green makes car maintenance seem like a piece of cake.

I must confess that there is a lot of unsexy stuff that goes into moving into a house that you bought.  It's not like starting a lease where you sign a contract with a definitive end, you've got definitive rules to follow, and you've got a landlord to call if something breaks.  The irreversible prospects and infinite list of things to do when it comes to owning a home is what scares me.  I knew that there would be a lot of repairs because we did buy a house that is nearly a century old, but I didn't see certain emotions coming.  Homesickness, frustration, helplessness, and self-inflicted pressure, all descended upon me after the glow of the first two days faded.  It was wonderful to drive up the long driveway and stare across the front yard for a little while, but then the driveway starts filling with fallen leaves and the yard begins turning an embarrassing shade of yellow.  Things that came up in our inspection report started to creep into my mind and scare me, like those cracks in our foundation, our outdated electrical box, and the roots intruding our pipes.  I wondered if that musty smell emitted by the crawl space would ever go away, and we discovered that there was a dead cat down there with mounds and mounds of its dried up excrement.  Then, the breaking point for me was when I realized that all of the numerous "bushes" in the front were really hugely overgrown invasive weeds (the "tree of heaven" that I mentioned) that were too hard to remove by myself.  There were even more of these weeds throughout the yard (and ugh, are those rotten orange remnants?), and you'd be shocked too about the random shit that I dug up from the ground while weeding - one of them was a really huge bone... The thought of ever gardening back here was literally disgusting.

Rewind to about two months ago, when we first laid eyes on this house.  We were on our way home (to the apartment) from dinner or something when Wes told me that he wanted to swing by a house that he had been eyeing on Redfin.  I shrugged, sure.  We drove over as the sun was setting and parked on the street in front.  Our first reaction was our astonishment at the size of the front yard, the big tree with trailing leaves, and how deep everything went back.  I remember thinking, wow, that's pretty ideal.  Little did we know that we'd be the lucky ones in escrow a few weeks later, after watching it go from open, to pending, then back on the market, and finally pending again, but this time it was pending to us.  I think back to that moment to remind myself that this was truly what we wanted.  I admit that I let all of the appreciation and excitement fade away when we started to unpack and focus our energies on learning the ropes of homeownership.

I went from not understanding what anything was at a hardware store to being more or less comfortable with its industrial-like aisles.  As of now, I think we've been to three different Home Depots at all hours of the day, to buy "essential" things like a string trimmer (they were running a good deal on it), a huge leaf blower (his brother got him hooked), a paint sprayer (because we realized that using a paintbrush to stain over 200 feet of fence was not wise), multi-purpose home insecticide (with the fun spray gun attached), Nature's Miracle (cat...shit...).  We are also now frequent customers of the Container Store, Ace Hardware, and OfferUp (you know it).  Advertisements that appeared on my Instagram seemed to transform overnight from trails and trees to rugs and pillows.  I'm not even kidding.  The whole idea of "splurging" skyrocketed to a new level--the fact that everything we buy must have permanent value makes it fun to entertain really nice things, but also it's a lot of pressure to make a final decision that you can't go back on.  And if you know me, you know I can't stand that.

In addition to the stress of endless spending and feeling like life as we knew it had slipped through my fingers, I felt (and still feel) very incompetent and pretty much like an imposter with all of this homeownership stuff.  Who am I anymore??  I went from being sure of my abilities and always having a plan to second guessing everything, and worst of all, comparing myself to my star of a husband, Wes.  I have to say that he is just kicking ass at all of the lawncare, large appliance installment, repairing, burglar-proofing, window treating, etc... while I am mainly in charge of organizing and handling things that a middle-schooler could probably do.  I find myself wondering if I am contributing enough and doubting my intelligence and worth.  It's sad, however, I do feel that it's important to go through times like these in life.  As I approach my 30th birthday soon, I am grateful for this opportunity to reexamine myself and grow from this discomfort.  As much as I would like to fast-forward through all of this tension and state of limbo, I am starting to think that there is no better way to spend the final months of my twenties.  It's still a work in progress, but as the house develops, so do I.  As Wes always says, "Stop being so hard on yourself."

With that being said, I am so unbelievably proud of Wes, who has taken on any project with genuine devotion and with a burning desire to get it done right.  This guy never cut corners to begin with, so I'm not surprised, but I still am very impressed with his skill, resourcefulness, patience, efficiency, and willingness to jump into the unknown.  And on top of that, he never expects any help or acknowledgment.  I bet this paragraph is making him cringe, so I'll stop.

Here are some tidbits that we captured (on our phones) of our first two weeks as homeowners!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Living it up in Lima

Lima, Peru.  It wasn't love at first sight, but the city definitely grew on me.  When we planned our trip to Peru, we decided to go to Cusco and the Sacred Valley first, and then end in Lima, the capital of Peru.  I figured that being in a metropolitan area would be a nice treat after all of our hiking and wandering in the parts of the country with less modern conveniences, but we found ourselves nostalgic for those places when we arrived in bustling Lima on a grey, smoggy afternoon.  We were sort of in denial that we had just been in pleasant, quiet old Urubamba just that morning and here we were, suddenly wrapped up in fumes, pedestrians, honking cars, and skyscrapers.  Lima is the third-largest city in the Americas.  At first, it was funny to be sarcastic about it all (Why's that dog on a leash? Why are they advertising bottled chicha?  Why are they selling sweaters in storefronts?), but soon it got to be sapping and I found myself regretful of our decision to leave Urubamba.  Wes reminded me that I didn't really know what to think of Urubamba at first either, but ended up loving it.  He also reminded me to think back to that first night when we laid over in Lima briefly before flying to Cusco.  It truly was all so fresh and exciting at that time, and we had been looking forward to coming back to check out what else this big city had to offer.

As I am sitting here in front of my computer a couple of years later, I look back on these photos and think about how wonderful the days we spent here were.  All things considered, Lima treated us so well, and I would be super happy to relive any one of those days there.  No, we weren't amongst ancient ruins or hiking in the jungle, but we got to eat food that was unique to Lima, we got to explore a UNESCO World Heritage site, we got to meet Chinese immigrants living here, we got to see what urban street art looked like, and we got to see sharply contrasting parts of the same country.  For example, our only choice of transportation in Urubamba was a rickety moto-taxi (or simply walking), whereas we were able to whip out our Smartphones and call an Uber in Lima.  I really value ending our trip in Lima now, and getting the chance to reflect on these things, and to think about how our lives in Los Angeles differed from what is considered modern in Lima.  We also unexpectedly glimpsed the striking similarities between the Peruvians of Chinese descent and our parents' generation in the United States, as first-generation immigrants.  These experiences in Lima, no matter how fleeting they seemed when they were happening, widened my world view.  Essentially, no travel experience can be taken for granted or underestimated, no matter how unglamorous.

Now, let me stop being all serious and get into all of the wonderful things about Lima that we loved and still remember well!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

First Thing He Smoked: Chinese Spiced St. Louis-style Ribs

Hurray, Wes is now the proud owner of his very own, fancy schmancy smoker.  He has long felt like he grew out of his cheap cabinet style smoker, which he had been using when we were living at our apartment.  Apparently, having a yard meant that he could grow out of the cabinet smoker and get something legit.  Ever since we got this house, Wes has been casually talking about adding a smoker to the back.  Yeah, like the black cylindrical kind with that burns those little wood pellets.  It reminds me of Wes musing about getting a grill when we first toured our apartment and discovered that there was a patio.  Oh, how times have changed.

As per usual with Wes, a deal can be found as soon as he receives the green light from me to purchase.  He bargained with someone on OfferUp (why have we never used this app before?!) for a brand new Traeger Timberline 850.  Stolen, perhaps.  But that's aside from the point.  After he assembled it, everything and anything edible went into that smoker.  From a piece of mozzarella in our caprese salad, to whole sea bass, to peaches.  Then, my uncle invited us to his place for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival for dinner and even though Wes usually will make crispy pork (my uncle’s favorite), this time I suggested making something in the new smoker. We already had some St. Louis style ribs in the fridge, so we decided to give them a Chinese flare.  We ditched the paprika and black pepper and opted for Szechuan peppercorn, five spice, ginger, white pepper, and cumin. Then, we topped them with Szechuan-flavored garlic chips that Wes toasted in the oven, sprigs of cilantro, and green onion. When I took my first bite, I knew that this would be a hit with my family. All of the Chinese flavors were complemented by the aroma of hickory and applewood.

Here is the recipe that we made up for the rub.  

3 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

Wes cooked these particular racks more than he normally would because he knows that my family really likes fall-off-the-bone barbecue, but he personally prefers the meat to have more of a pull.  After cooking the ribs in the smoker for about three hours with some intermittent sprays of cider vinegar, he took them out and wrapped them in foil with a little honey and brown sugar.  Then, back into the smoker they went for another two hours or so.  They were indeed mouthwateringly tender!  For the record, Wes would really cook it for about two hours for the first stage (unwrapped) and then about an hour and a half for the second stage (wrapped) to achieve the firmer texture that he likes.

So far we are getting a lot of use out of this 2-day-old smoker and we hope that it will see many more pounds of meat and wood pellets. And whatever else Wes decides to randomly throw in there.